What makes this new "hard-times conservatism" truly bizarre is that it arose in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the greatest failure of free market principles most Americans have ever lived through. Three years ago, every laissez-faire warrior from Alan Greenspan on down prostrated himself before Congress and the press, conceding that the system was broken. And yet from the ashes of the crisis arose not a third way, but a shrill, purified movement of hardcore anti-government activists. For Frank, it's as if "the public had demanded dozens of new nuclear power plants in the wake of the Three Mile Island disaster."
Until Obama's election, this kind of purist market worship was the preserve of political and economic elites – "propaganda," to use Frank's blunt term, to keep
wealth in their own hands. Who knows if even they believed it? And yet in 2009 and 2010, a whole swath of Americans turned to "the sole utopian scheme available" to them, with effects that can only be called perverse. It's one thing for a CEO to declare that "corporations are people," if such an obscene claim leads to greater profits or power. Now, amazingly, the same line could be heard from ordinary voters. Even more strangely, middle- and working-class Americans were defending precisely the multinationals that had triggered the crisis and received the universally reviled bailouts. In the trough of the 2009 recession, Americans whose livelihoods had been destroyed by far-off bankers were actually rallying "to demand that bankers be freed from 'red tape' and the scrutiny of the law." At one surreal moment, Glenn Beck urged his followers to give away their cash to the US Chamber of Commerce, "the biggest, baddest business lobby in all of DC." They donated so much that they crashed its servers.